Buddy and Sister Act

Think back to the year 1944 when the United States was fighting Germany in World War II. The campground of the 151st Division in the U.S. Army is quiet, save for the sound of one music box and two harmonizing male voices softly singing the tune of “White Christmas.”

This is how the family-friendly musical “White Christmas” opens, taking its cue from the 1954 musical film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

Alhambra Theatre & Dining has presented a special Christmas performance for more than 20 years. The tradition of staging Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at Alhambra will continue in 2013, and the theater was nearly sold out as of last week for “White Christmas” through the last show on Dec. 24.

This classic Christmas story focuses on two buddies who pursue careers in song and dance after getting out of the Army. The partners later meet up with two sisters who also have a song-and-dance act. They team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.

From the comedic acting to the harmonic songs to the slow waltzes, the talent displayed in the cast is delightful. The musical features 20 songs and a mixture of swing and tap dance numbers. The colorful costumes are reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s, from the blue lace dresses worn during the “Sisters” scene to the long, red Christmas gowns worn at the end of the show, with some updated styles seen here and there.

David Raimo plays crooner Captain Bob Wallace, whose character appears at first to be much more cynical than Crosby’s in the film, yet softens greatly toward the end. His smooth, rich voice would make Crosby proud in “Blue Skies” and “How Deep is the Ocean,” both written by composer Irving Berlin.

Private Phil Davis, played by Ken Alan, is Wallace’s humorous, flirtatious friend and business partner, who tries to set him up with a girl because Davis believes that Wallace is too focused on work. Audiences will fall for Alan’s cheery disposition and notable dancing skills from the start. In the second act, Alan joins actress Erin Dowling and the chorus for a rousing tap dance number to “I Love a Piano.”

The Haynes sisters, played by Dowling and Lindsay Luppino, add a romantic curve to the story. Luppino plays the older sister, Betty Haynes, who is the serious, logical one of the two. Her voice is much higher than that of Rosemary Clooney who played the role originally. At first, Luppino’s voice doesn’t seem to fit the part, but she shines when singing the challenging solo “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” which ranges from low to high. With a cheeky grin, a good singing voice and great dancing skills, Dowling fits wonderfully into the role of Judy Haynes, the lighter, happier sister, whose character is essentially the female version of Davis’.

The rest of the cast performs well, with Mark Poppleton playing the perfect version of the outwardly hard but inwardly soft Gen. Henry Waverly, while Lisa Valdini adds new flair to the general’s housekeeper and receptionist, Martha Watson.

At least five more songs by Irving Berlin are in the musical that were not in the original film. The audience will enjoy the classics as well as the additional songs, including “Love and the Weather,” sung by Raimo and Luppino, comparing the unreliability of love to the unpredictable weather. “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” is a song about show business and stardom sung first by Valdini and later by Megan Sell, who plays the granddaughter of Gen. Waverly.

The blend of falling snowflakes and audience participation during the final rendition of the song “White Christmas” leaves this romantic musical comedy glistening.

Cassidy Roddy